The master of posh pub grub is back on TV, hurrah! He talks comfort food and lifts the lid on what it's really like in his award-winning kitchen
If we were to find ourselves on MasterChef: The Professionals (hear us out, we can dream), we'd want to go to Tom Kerridge’s kitchen (are you listening, John and Gregg?).
Why? Because Tom's The Hand and Flowers was the first pub in the world to be given two Michelin stars. No wonder he's always beaming.
Kerridge began his career at Rhodes in the Square and Odettes before becoming head chef at the Michelin-starred Adlards in Norwich. He and his wife Beth opened The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire in 2005.
It might not serve the ‘traditional’ pub grub you’d expect to find in your local (hence the Hand, as it's known in Marlow, has a very long waiting list), but these dishes are the kind you want to eat: generous, seasonal, British food.
As you'd expect from somewhere which was awarded its first Michelin star within 12 months of opening (the second came in 2012), the menu includes some showstopping dishes: slowcooked duck breast with peas and duck fat chips, cod Veronique with hazelnuts, sour grapes and crab, and half beer roast chicken, romanesco, mushroom butter and summer truffle to name a few.
When we caught up with Tom (who is an author as well as an award-winning chef and TV cook) we grilled him for 10 minutes on all things food.
Work-life balance tends to be something that chefs laugh at. Are your days relentlessly long?
They are and they’re not. If you love what you’re doing it’s not work, it’s a way of life. I don’t feel like I go to work, I never have that ‘Monday morning’ feeling.
Describe your day
My alarm goes off at 6.30am. I let the dogs out, make the wife and I a cup of tea and crack off to work, unless I’m catching a train to London. I'm in work by 8am and my PA, Alex, arrives at 9. In the morning I catch up on emails, write recipes and newspaper things and spend some time with Aaron, our head chef, and Chris, our development chef. I’ll also spend time with our general manager to see if everyone's happy and how we can make things better. We’re always making small changes.
I go for a swim every day, 1800 metres, and am back at work for the evening service. I’m home by midnight or 1am, have a cup of coffee or tea and then start all over again.
You’re known for your love of British food, and your new series on BBC2 (Best Ever Dishes) sees you cooking dishes from across the globe. Is this a change in direction for you?
Not really, these are dishes that people like to eat, for example a roast chicken that everyone knows and understands, but try it marinaded in a satay sauce ... that's a winner. It’s what people love to cook themselves but with a twist. I’ve been a chef for 23 years and it’s how I would cook these classic dishes at home. It’s about making them a little bit better.
What’s your favourite time of year for cooking?
Autumn. It’s all about slower cooked meat, root veg, the woodland and those bright orange colours - it suits great British food very well. Who doesn’t like a wonderful breezy walk and then a bit of slow-roast lamb?
What’s the most stressful dish to prepare?
Personally, I’m not so hot on desserts. If someone wants an amazing pudding, that makes me nervous.
Also, a big Sunday lunch or Christmas dinner, things that are all about timings, are stressful. My advice? Don’t stress, get all of your prep done and don’t worry. You can get things done ahead, they don’t have to be done all at once.
What three ingredients could you not cook without?
I’m a big fan of salt – seasoning is very important – and I would also say dairy. Really good dairy is high in acidity, a flavour enhancer which adds richness and so many different layers to dishes.
Water is one of the most overlooked ingredients. Instead of it being for boiling vegetables in, put some veg in a pan, dry roast them and add a splash of water, it will draw out the natural water so it will taste more of what it’s meant to.
What’s your food weakness?
Sausages. I love sausages, well, sausages and bacon. Pork breakfast products are a winner for me!
You’ve got 15 minutes, what comfort food dish would you whip up?
A hearty omelette. One with smoked haddock in or some really lovely braised mushrooms. Moving into autumn, there are some fantastic girolles and ceps around. Yeah, you could knock that out in 15 minutes.
What’s the most used piece of equipment in the kitchen?
It’s got to be my espresso machine. It’s on, a lot. Mate, I’m in double figures every day.
You can fly one chef to your kitchen to cook for you, who would it be?
There are so many phenomenal chefs, but I’d say Paul Bocuse. He’s been a Michelin-starred chef for 40 years. I’ve never tried his food.
What advice would you give yourself if you were starting again?
Stop whinging and get on with it.
How important are Michelin stars to you?
We were never chasing one but I definitely, definitely don’t want to give it back! It’s the most incredible thing to be the only pub with two Michelin stars. I hope others get them, but I’m glad we were the first.
You’ve given up booze, was it hard?
I’ve been teetotal for 18 months now. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, I’m in the mindset now. I still have the same nights out with my mates, and am happy to cook with it.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A fisherman or something like that. Something manual.
We’re opening another pub in mid-November. It’s on the same road in Marlow as the Hand and Flowers but it will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner – 20 covers sat at the bar and non-bookable.
• Best Ever Dishes starts on 3 October 2014 at 9pm on BBC 2